Every summer it feels like I’m waiting allll yeeeaaar for my tomatoes to ripen, and then one day — after I go out of town for the weekend — I’ll come home to a garden that’s suddenly bursting at the seams with sweet, smoky, plump and juicy tomatoes.
They don’t last very long on the vine, so for the next week it’s all things tomato in the kitchen. And this is one of my favorite things to do with them: tomato sauce!
It’s quick, it’s easy, and it doesn’t involve skinning or seeding tomatoes. I always make a few jars of this sauce every summer and freeze them to enjoy through the winter. If you like the spice of arrabiata sauce, this is a bold take on it that you’ll love. A handful of fresh parsley and mint amps up the flavor into something so special, you don’t need much more than a bowl of penne to go with it. (Well, penne and a glass of wine, that is.)
Besides pasta, it also makes the perfect base for homemade pizza, or a savory dip for garlic bread or zucchini sticks. If you want to dress up your frittatas or potatoes, a dollop of my spicy minty tomato sauce does the trick.
I’ve made this sauce many times in the past but it was only recently that I started adding a secret ingredient: tomato leaves.
After learning about tomato leaves and experimenting with them in my recipes, I’ve found that the leaves add another dimension to the sauce — making it richer, more fragrant, and more tomato-y.
I have always loved the distinctly summery smell of fresh tomato vines when I brush against them in the garden, and infusing them in a puree of fresh tomatoes really brings out that burst of flavor. It’s an idea well loved by former Chez Panisse chef Paul Bertolli, who’s known for infusing his tomato sauce with tomato leaves (and even shares a recipe for such in his cookbook Cooking by Hand).
My recipe below calls for 1/3 cup tomato leaves, but I leave them on large sprigs so I can remove them from the sauce more easily. Just eyeball the amount and use the freshest, lushest leaves from your plant.
Spicy Minty Tomato Sauce Infused With Tomato Leaves
Makes 1 quart
2 pounds tomatoes
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
1/3 cup packed fresh mint
4 to 5 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup packed fresh tomato leaves
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
If needed, chop your tomatoes into smaller chunks to fit your blender. Puree the tomatoes, parsley, mint, garlic, and olive oil as smooth (or as chunky) as you like your sauce to be. Puree in batches if necessary.
Combine the puree and tomato leaves in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes to infuse and thicken the sauce. Stir in the ground black pepper (don’t be afraid, put it all in!) and red pepper flakes.
When done, discard the tomato leaves and use the sauce right away in your favorite recipe, or decant into a jar and refrigerate. The sauce should last one to two weeks in the fridge, but can also be frozen.